WP Admin dashboard example

Be Careful What You CMS For

The growth of Content Management Systems has been phenomenal over the past
several years for a number of reasons; one easily recognized is a need to
update the business website regularly and/or quickly.

User-friendliness can be objective (standard definition/best practices), yet can
also be a matter of personal taste in many areas. Appealing colors, read-able
fonts that contrast to background, navigation that is easy to access and
understand, strategic content placement, all seem obvious elements of a user-
friendly site.

Choices on types of color (can I get a witness to avoid yellow/green on
light blue?); whether backgrounds should have patterns that are intricate, simple,
or remain solid; the amount of content, all figure into how much traffic the
site gets and how long people stay.

To my knowledge the general rule has been to design sites to be compatible with
most commonly used media/devices, but with the proliferation of mobile and
tablets, not to mention wider monitors, "most commonly used" is relative. A site
that adapts to the device display is ideal.

What do you need to know to administer a CMS?

With a properly set up site you should still expect a degree of a learning curve.
After learning the basics you won't need to do more than enter content -- most
of the time. With WordPress for example, image uploads are simple and intuitive;
applying updates is a frequent but relatively easy task. However there is always
the possibility that you have to restore the database. This is one area where
you will need to work with other tools in your hosting admin panel suite.

The one thing you should not do is make changes or add things without
understanding as much as possible about the nature and consequences of
them (if any). If a performance hit or worse results, it is reassuring to know in advance what steps can be taken to recover.

One area where it pays to be cautious is in adding plugins. A  plugin is a software module designed for specific or multiple functions  depending on the implementation.

Too many plugins can slow your system down; duplication of underlying
technologies can cause a conflict and hang the system or crash the site. A host
provider may take your site offline (without notice) if they perceive "abuse."

How much is 'too many'? In my experience I haven't found it yet (knock wood).
I searched the WP forums on this topic and the consensus is it's only limited
by server resources and how well built the plugin is, and if they play well with
others.

To date I've only installed on shared hosting and have used a variety of solutions for
resource issues.

In cases where things are going wrong or breaking, one of the first
ways to diagnose the problem is to deactivate all plugins (easily done with a
couple of clicks from the dashboard) then reactivate them one at a time and
test to see if the problem recurs, so the plugin at fault can be isolated.

The challenge, as with most everything, is having the patience and persistence
to discover what is possible and where/how to obtain it.

Consider the following:

  • Get training or train yourself in the admin functions of your CMS.
  • Understand whether your site is concentrated on information or interaction.
  • What screen resolution are you expecting to optimally display your site?
  • How many of your anticipated audience will view the site at that resolution?
  • Should you have a blog in addition to a "company profile" site?
  • How much are you willing to delegate?

This is by no means an exhaustive list but will serve to guide your direction.

The CMS approach is a welcome, expedient and robust platform for developing
your web presence, and there are many to choose from. Some are preferred
for different purposes (i.e. WordPress for blogging, others for eCommerce), but
with so many plugins and themes available, functionality doesn't have to be
compromised and tradeoffs are not that hard.

Whatever you decide it's always a good idea to plan for scaling. Make sure your CMS can grow with you and in what it delivers.

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

The other day I had what I call a "Tech Wake Up Call".

Out of the blue (literally) an error screen popped up in the course of booting, followed by a Windows XP "apology message." This, needless to say, was not helpful in charting my course.

Let it be clearly understood that one of my uppermost concerns is optimal system performance.  Diligent system management does not just set the expectation of dependability and instantaneous response; it reinforces a sense of being justified in that expectation. (Yeah, I know.) 

So, after going through several reboots and getting no closer to a login screen, (in fact the result became "no input signal for <monitor>, going to power-save mode" and monitor shutdown) I figured it was time to get out the XP installation CD.

Booting from the CD got a monitor display...of a number of files that appeared to be loading, and finally a "C" prompt. Well, it was an improvement. Not exactly Windows, but at least a door.

Using a spare laptop to get online I found:

  • a lot of entries about this on the net (some real interesting hits on "signs video card is failing")
  • more than a few symptoms that might lead you to think otherwise, but all associated with the video card
  • the ever-present comment: "[the video card] is just bad so get a new one" 

That last is the chiller because this video card is now obsolete (although as of 10/2010 I found 3 sources on eBay, certainly for this). 

At the (literal) end of the day my problem was solved, so far, although I have no evidence that running CHKDSK /R and the recovery CD procedures deserve the credit other than a sudden normal reboot from the BIOS. (No log message saying "Baby, I'm back!") 

As I retraced all my activity, from the massive security patches applied to the system earlier in the week, until that fateful "apology", I can only conclude that something I did while cleaning the system upset the delicate balance. (Make sure compressed air is used while system is off! Doesn't matter how many fans are going... It's not. A good. Idea!)

However, the underlying inescapable reality is that after five faithful years of service I have to replace my system (the ultimate upgrade?). Or at least consider it. 

Well, you may be thinking, that is painfully obvious.

But I've read that it's common for businesses to [very] reluctantly part with what they are familiar with. This has been most evident in the migration from Windows XP to Windows 7.

I have never held the opinion that any software at any point in business operations should be the only alternative for carrying that business. I've even had the experience of supporting legacy software that was indispensable yet could not be re-created... (Thanks very much, got the T-shirt).  😉

Yet, I am a little surprised to find I have developed an affinity with this machine. We've been through a lot together and it has been essential
in my growth. It is the first machine that I've used truly beyond the boundaries of my employment. I went back to school with it. I've explored everything from Hubble telescope photographs to more mundane fare.

It is also the first machine with the purpose of trying to build something that is mine.

The days of this being my primary PC are coming to a close and I have to say on the whole, I've been fortunate and thankful for this high quality assembly by PC's For Everyone.

One thing I will be on the lookout for is hardware monitoring software, any as trustworthy and as comprehensive as I can find. I've also taken a few other steps that will provide more options should I encounter this situation again.

Another take-away I've gained is it might help to get a spare video card with next purchase of a PC or within a year or two. That might "save the horse for want of a horseshoe nail." In any case it's a sound strategy to have a 3 to 5 year plan for replacing a computer system or enabling an overhaul that will yield the same results.

In a future entry I'll share some of my considerations in this area.